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The eBearing News
May 6, 2004

Illicit Nuclear Weapons Programs Involve
Smuggling High-Precision Bearings
copyright © 2004 eBearing Inc.

Prosecutors in the Netherlands are pursuing charges against a Dutch man, whose name is not being released, in connection with a nuclear parts smuggling operation. That operation supplied Pakistan's secret nuclear weapons program with important components, including bearings, needed to build both weapons and delivery systems.

The man reportedly worked for and stole the weapons materiel from Urenco, smuggling it to Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of Pakistan's clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Urenco is a British-Dutch-German consortium formed in 1970 to supply enriched uranium for European nuclear reactors. In particular, Urenco developed and used highly classified centrifuge systems and related technologies -- employing advanced magnetic bearing systems -- to separate fissionable uranium-235 from uranium-238. The separation is achieved by centrifuging the isotopes at 100,000 RPM.

Obtaining these classified centrifuge systems and the bearing technologies they employ were long considered the unsurmountable obstacles faced by rogue countries with aspirations for nuclear weapons. And one centrifuge is not enough; an assembled series of centrifuges are needed to achieve uranium enrichment.

Mr. Khan, in the 1970's, also worked for Urenco. In 1976, he suddenly returned to Pakistan. In 1983, Dutch authorities charged and convicted him, in absentia, of nuclear espionage for stealing details of Urenco's centrifuge and bearing technology. Mr. Khan could not be extradited from Pakistan, where he had been appointed to head the nuclear program.

A wide variety of components and technologies illegal to trade on the international market; among them are strategic materials which can be used to manufacture atomic weapons and delivery systems.

High-precision bearings, both ball bearings and advanced magnetic bearings, are among the key nuclear components the accused man reportedly supplied to Pakistan from the 1990's through at least 2002.

Uranium enrichment gas centrifuge bearing,
confiscated by the U.S. CIA in Iraq in mid-2003
represents an older, less-efficient design of uranium gas centrifuge:

The bottom bearing in place on a full-size centrifuge mechanical drawing;
the upper bearing would be a magnetic suspension bearing:

View Urenco's animated uranium enrichment centrifuge: click here
The particular bearings involved are specifically barred from unaudited international trade not only because they have nuclear centrifuge applications but also because they have weapons guidance systems applications for missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.

In 1998, Pakistan successfully tested a nuclear weapon. After September 11, 2001, the program came under intense international scrutiny; details about how the program had been operating gradually began to leak out.

Mr. Khan later admitted running what amounted to a wholesale nuclear weapons technology training and supply program, selling nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. In the case of North Korea, he apparently traded Pakistan's nuclear technology for North Korea's more advanced missile systems.

In 2003, Iran and Libya were found to have active nuclear programs, using uranium enrichment centrifuges from Pakistan and based on designs and bearings stolen from Urenco. The centrifuge designs and bearings shown above were found in Iraq, and are based on stolen Urenco technology from the early 1990's.

In January, Mr. Khan confessed publicly, offering, "deepest regrets and unqualified apologies. I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon." He was shortly pardoned by Pakistan's President Musharraf, a move which angered the international community, but subjects him to immediate arrest if he should ever leave Pakistan.

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- by Bruce A. Carr
from individual research,
tips and commercial sources.
Bruce Carr edited this content.
Copyrighted material; unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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